New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
1 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A McChord C-17 Globemaster III flies over the newly constructed airfield bridge to reopen the full runway at McChord Field at about 10 a.m. Dec. 22. (Photo Credit: Joe Piek, JBLM Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
2 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Before the Air Force could extend the runway at McChord Field they had to do something about the runoff from Clover Creek, which crossed the field on which they planned to build in 1951. In March of 1951 a 12-foot high, 1,500-foot long culvert was rolled into the creek bed to carry the creek's water under the new runway. The giant pipe was 12 feet in diameter and capable of handling 1,264,700 gallons of water per hour. It could withstand the pressure of 160 tons per running foot. After being lowered into the creek, it was covered with 10 feet of dirt fill and the cement runway extension was built above the fill. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Tacoma Public Library and the Richards Studio) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
3 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A one-piece pipeline, extending more than a quarter-mile across McChord Field, was snaked into place as a drainage system underneath the extension of the McChord runway system in 1951. Before being rolled into place, the pipe was braced every 100 feet. Using four boom cranes on one side and four double hitched caterpillars on the opposite side plus a huge power driven winch on each end, the pipe was gently rolled into the water and maneuvered into its proper place. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Tacoma Public Library and the Richards Studio) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
4 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Culvert being lowered into ditch at McChord Field as a plane flies overhead in 1951. The 12-foot diameter drainage pipeline extended more than a quarter-mile across McChord Field and carried the runoff from Clover Creek under the runway extension. It was lowered into place by four boom cranes on one side, four double-hitched caterpillars on the opposite side and a huge power driven winch on each end. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Tacoma Public Library and the Richards Studio) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
5 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The 1,500-foot pipeline served as a culvert under the runway extension at McChord Field in 1951. The pipe, at 12 feet in diameter, was one of the largest of its kind built and the largest to be used on an airfield. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Tacoma Public Library and the Richards Studio) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
6 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Overhead view of the depressions found on the McChord Field runway’s south end Jan. 27. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
7 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – An overhead view of the excavation work on the site Feb. 20. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
8 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The McChord Airfield bridge construction site as seen from Heritage Hill Aug. 21. The old culverts are removed and Clover Creek is diverted around the construction site through a series of pumps and pipes. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
9 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Some of the 340 pumps used to dewater the route where the air bridge will be placed Aug 29. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
10 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Construction area after old culverts have been removed Aug. 29. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
11 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Construction area after old culverts have been removed Aug. 29. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
12 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Clover Creek is dry near where the opening of the old culvert was located Aug. 29. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
13 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The first of the 6-foot wide concrete arch sections are installed to form a 50-foot-wide archway to create the new airfield bridge Sept. 18. In all, 300 sections will be installed all together. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
14 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The McChord Airfield bridge concrete arch section reach about the halfway point Oct. 7. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
15 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Runway paving was completed Nov. 20. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
16 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The last of the reinforced concrete arch sections were put in place Nov. 23. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
17 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The airfield bridge construction site almost July 19. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
18 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Overhead view of the McChord Field runway airfield bridge construction site Aug. 15. Note the installation of dewatering wells and water lines allowing Clover Creek to bypass the construction site and lower water level for the airfield bridge construction. (Inset) Some of the 340 pumps used to dewater the route where the airfield bridge will be placed.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo)
VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
19 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – McChord airfield bridge begins to take shape Sept. 22. (Inset) The first of 300 arches for the McChord airfield bridge in place Sept. 18. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
20 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The airfield bridge hits its halfway point Oct. 14. Note the excavated area below the bridge where gravel, rocks and fill dirt are stored. (Inset) ground level view of the airfield bridge. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL
New bridge restores full McChord airfield capabilities
21 / 21 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Overhead view of the airfield bridge Oct. 30. The last arch was installed and the runway repaving work wrapped up Nov. 23. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – A McChord C-17 Globemaster III took off Dec. 22 over the new underground bridge to commemorate the reopening of the McChord Field runway to its full, 10,100-foot operational length. This follows the 11-month closure of almost half of the runway due to two failing culverts under the runway, taxiway and infield.

“After the culverts failed, we were forced to limit aircraft operations at McChord Field hampering our ability to project global airlift,” said Col. Brian Collins, 62nd Airlift Wing vice commander. “However, thanks to our mission partners, we are excited to announce our runway is once again fully operational. The new concrete airfield bridge will provide a long-lasting solution toward ensuring McChord Field continues to fill its key role in our national defense.”

Construction of the new concrete, arch bridge under the runway — a nearly $80 million construction project started in July by Brice Civil Contractors, Inc. — was finished ahead of schedule. The new 1,800 foot-long airfield bridge, consists of 300, 50-foot-wide concrete archways, each about 6-feet wide, placed side-by-side.

The new airfield bridge is significantly larger than the old culverts, and it’s built to handle water flows generated by a 100-plus year storm, compared to the previous culverts’ design to handle a 50-year stormflow.

“This project is important for so many reasons, and we are extremely pleased that it could be such a great win-win for all involved,” said Col. Skye Duncan, JBLM Garrison commander. “We re-enabled the daily worldwide strategic airlift from McChord Field, and we improved the environment for decades to come. The communities east and west of the base will see improved water quality and fish passage with this new 100-year bridge, and once again we are able to support all the types of aircraft that depend on JBLM to project around the globe to protect our nation.”

During the construction, pumps and pipes were used to divert Clover Creek around the construction site, and dewatering wells were used to drain and dry the construction site. When construction is finished, Clover Creek will flow under the new, wider airfield bridge that runs under the McChord Field runway, taxiway and infield and, once again, this key environmental waterway will flow completely with no obstructions.

“JBLM was able to take advantage of the emergency and provide a better habitat for the fish that inhabit Clover Creek,” said Steven Kelley, JBLM Area engineer, Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We replaced two steel culverts that channeled Clover Creek under the runway with a fish friendly passage constructed in accordance with state and federal guidelines that features an LED lighted meandering stream designed to replicate a natural streambed.”

In January 2020, ground depressions formed on either side of the McChord Field runway. Investigation showed two 1950s-era, 12-foot diameter, 1,800 foot-long steel culverts allowing Clover Creek to flow under McChord Field were failing. The 70-year old corrugated steel culverts, which were installed during a $4 million runway extension project in 1951-52, had significant structural problems to include ruptures, warping, and debris blockages.

The damage made the runway over the culverts unsafe for aircraft to land, takeoff or taxi over them, and the airlift wings at McChord Field ceased using the south end of the runway beyond the culverts.

Although McChord Field runway operations continued throughout 2020, the tempo of flight operations were limited. The 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings will now resume normal day-to-day operations at McChord Field and the community should expect an increase in C-17 flights around JBLM.

For a video of the takeoff Dec. 22, visit https://www.dvidshub.net/video/778244/new-bridge-restores-full-mcchord-airfield-capability

McChord Field airfield bridge construction timeline

1951-1952 – McChord Field runway extended to 8,100 feet. Clover Creek diverted under it through two, 1,500-foot long, 12-foot-wide culverts; part of a $4 million runway extension project.

  • McChord Field runway was upgraded to handle the largest transport aircraft of the day (C-124 Globemaster IIs).
  • The 62nd Troop Carrier Wing, equipped with C-124s, reactivated at McChord Field in September 1951.

1954 – Original culverts extended to 1,800 feet when additional ramps and a taxiway were built.

January 2020 – Ground depressions formed along the culvert’s route under the runway on both sides of the runway. Depressions rapidly worsened after significant rainfall in early January.

Late-January 2020 – Conditions deemed unacceptable for safe aircraft operations over the existing culverts. The runway was reduced by about 3,500 feet and impacted ramp and taxiway were also closed. This limited the types of aircraft and the cargo loads that could use the runway.

Early-February 2020 – The depressions were excavated, and a remote controlled submersible was used to examine the culverts’ interiors. The search confirmed the culverts were blocked by rocks and debris in several places, and the culverts were deformed: in one place compressed from a 12-foot to 4-foot diameter. Both culverts had ruptures, and water was flowing into and out of the culverts in multiple locations. It was determined the culverts could not be repaired.

Late-February 2020 – Department of the Army approved expedited project approval and acquisition process.

March 25, 2020 – 62nd Operations Group commander, on behalf of the 62nd Airlift Wing commander, signed Memorandum for Record declaring the culverts’ failure an operational emergency.

  • May 5, 2020 – State Historic Preservation officer concurred with the work proceeding. The Puyallup and Nisqually Tribes also concurred with this action.
  • May 12, 2020 – JBLM requested expedited consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service pursuant to 50 CFR § 402.05.
  • May 27, 2020 – USACE Seattle District Regulatory Branch issued an Emergency Notice to Proceed on allowing the project to proceed under the Nationwide Permit 14 terms and conditions.
  • May 28, 2020 – EPA Region 10 provided a letter confirming they’d authorized a Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification for the project.

May 28, 2020 – Army Corps of Engineers awarded design build contract for the project.

July 16, 2020 – Construction starts with excavation work and installation of dewatering wells.

Late-July 2020 – Clover Creek diversion around construction site begins via pumps, pipes and hoses. Clover Creek diversion will remain in place until the bridge structure is complete in the summer of 2021.

Mid-September 2020 – First of the 50-foot-wide reinforced concrete arch sections installed for the bridge structure. Installation of 300, 50-foot by 6-foot arch sections, totaling 1,800 feet, continued for 10 weeks.

Nov. 20, 2020 – Runway paving completed, ahead of schedule.

Nov. 23, 2020 – The last of the reinforced concrete arch sections put in place, ahead of schedule.

Dec. 22, 2020 – McChord Field runway reopened to its full operational length. During the 7-month construction period, the contractor used:

  • 6,846 cubic yards of concrete, or just over a half mile of Interstate 5;
  • 1,500 tons of steel rebar weighing more than seven 747s;
  • excavated enough dirt to fill nearly half of the new State Route-99 tunnel in Seattle;
  • pumped more than 660 million gallons of ground water, or enough to fill nearly 1,000 Olympic swimming pools.